When university professors Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs started a blog about their resolution to get in shape by the age of 50, it sparked a conversation about what it means to be fit, and who gets to claim the title.
For many of us, milestone birthdays can be a source of anxiety. But for Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs, the approach of the big "five-oh" presented both a target and an opportunity. In fall 2012, the longtime friends and fellow professors at Western University in London, Ont., then 48, set themselves a challenge: They would get into the best physical shape of their lives by their 50th birthdays—and they would blog about it along the way.
Fast-forward five years, and Samantha and Tracy's Fit Is a Feminist Issue blog is still going strong, reaching thousands of monthly readers with its refreshing mix of personal stories and thoughtful posts on what it means to be fit (and how to get there). Our takeaway? If you've ever worried that it's too late for you to get in shape, take heart: Samantha and Tracy are living proof that it's not.
What motivated you to begin this journey toward fitness in your late 40s?
Samantha: I wanted to take charge of how I aged physically, to think about what kind of life I wanted to live as an older person and what would make that possible. When I was younger, my fitness concerns were often based on looking a certain way and my goals were often tied to weight loss. Now, I think about my friend's mom who came on a recent canoeing trip. I want to be portaging in my 70s, too!
Tracy: When I first started the challenge, I had a covert hope that [weight loss] would be the byproduct, that I would have this lean, mean body by the time I turned 50. But over the course of the first few months, I made a conscious effort to get away from using weight loss as a measure of fitness. My goal became an Olympic-distance triathlon before my 50th birthday. I also had the goal of shifting my attitude, focusing on performance and getting the endurance needed to be able to complete that race.
Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs
What challenges have you faced along the way?
Tracy: My first triathlon [the Kincardine Women's Triathlon in Kincardine, Ont.] was a big deal, but the Olympic-distance triathlon was a whole other thing. It was a 1500m swim, a 40K bike and a 10K run—more than three times longer than Kincardine! I'd never ran or biked those distances, even individually. The time management involved in training was also hard; I have a full-time job! But my biggest challenges were probably mental: trying to think of myself as an athlete who had a right to be there. When I finally completed the Olympic-distance triathlon, I finished in the bottom 10, but I did it, and that felt pretty great.
Samantha: For me, it's about the balance of fitting it all in. During our Fittest by 50 Challenge, I was doing CrossFit in the mornings and aikido at night, and I'd arrive at my aikido class sore and tired. Interestingly, [doing] CrossFit helped my aikido, because I couldn't rely on strength or energy to do it—I had no choice but to go slow and focus on the technique. I was also dealing with my partner's parents both passing away. His mother had developed ALS [a disease that attacks the nervous system] and moved to London so we could care for her. I was rowing at the time, and I couldn't keep up with it and be the caregiver I needed to be. Some sports, like rowing, require you to be there at a specific time with a group of people; it's a real commitment. Running was easier for me; I could go out and do it—morning, evening, whenever.
What have you learned about yourselves throughout this process?
Samantha: I need to be in a social activity that will get me out the door to people who expect to see me or that I'm committed to. The social part really matters.
Tracy: I've learned that it feels better to achieve something meaningful than to focus on weight loss as a metric. If you're already strong and fit, what does it matter if you're carrying around a few extra pounds?
The fitness industry can be intimidating. What's your advice for pushing through that feeling?
Tracy: Have people to do activities with. For me, going to running clinics was so important because I realized that there are people of all shapes, sizes, speeds and experience levels doing these activities. It's also important to seek out a place that promotes inclusivity and diversity; the YMCA I joined is great because it's a diverse community with a diverse esthetic, and it doesn't emphasize weight loss as a goal.
Samantha: Find something you think is really fun. Try lots of things—maybe something completely weird. Just do your thing! And remember, you don't have to be good at the thing you love doing. Having fun is more important than being good. Samantha and Tracy's book, Fit Is a Feminist Issue: Our Journey to Fitness at Midlife (Greystone Books) will be released next year.
Fitness bloggers Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs share three tips to help you kick off your health journey.
1. Don't make it about weight. "If you make weight loss your goal and then quit if you don't lose weight, you miss out on all the other health benefits of exercise," says Samantha.
2. Set a scary (but not impossible) goal. "Set your sights high," advises Samantha. "[Goal-setting] commits you and focuses your attention and energy. Pick something a year away and train for it!"
3. Begin with baby steps. "We always want to start big, but starting small and building is more likely to lead to established habits because it's realistic and doable," says Tracy.
Save some money this season with easily accessible, moisture-retaining products for when that cold wind bites—all under $20.
Winter’s icy grip has set in, and the crisp weather calls for a new extra nourishing beauty routine. It's a fact that rough and dry skin longs for moisture when blizzards roll in and jacked up thermostats wreak havoc. The skin-care struggle is real. We can share our best ways to curb dry winter skin and tell you how to boost moisture, but you'll also need the beauty products to help see you through to warmer weather.
We know surviving sub-zero temperatures is hard enough—your pocket shouldn’t have to take a hit as well. The good news is, it doesn't have to. All of these beauty products can be purchased at your local drugstore and for under $20, leaving you with more spending money for a peppermint mocha on your way home.
This cult-classic beauty aid has the power to withstand Arctic climates. Slather on the all-natural product—with pansy, chamomile and calendula extracts— anywhere you need it: think dry patches, cuticles and rough elbows. $19, well.ca.
It's a beauty myth that exfoliating your skin will leave you more dry and dehydrated. The fact is, it helps shed dead skin and leaves your face primed to absorb your moisturizing products. Try these pads soaked in glycolic acid. They're less abrasive than a mechanical exfoliant such as beads or scrubs. $15, well.ca.
Even if you have oily skin, winter is time to replace your oil-free gel or clay cleanser in favour of milks or balms. This balm cleanser replenishes lost moisture through glycerin and cocoa butter while still erasing all traces of makeup and grime. $10, beautyboutique.ca.
When your skin is red, parched and in desperation for some heavy-duty TLC, that’s when you send in the face masks. In 15 minutes, this hyaluronic acid-infused facial sheet mask will prevent dullness and provide 24 hours of moisture retention. $18, indeedlabs.com.
Right now, summer feels like a distant dream—but your skin could still use a touch of (faux) summer glow. This foundation gives a dose of gradual self-tanner, providing buildable coverage when on, and a healthy bronze once you rinse it off. $18, almay.com.
Plenty of body washes can leave you dehydrated by the time you step out of the shower. This one does helps lock-in moisture post-shower with argan oil. $5.50, walmart.ca.
If body oil isn’t your thing, nourishing body butter is the skin fix you need. Whipped with shea and cocoa butter—both hailed for their moisturizing properties—there will be no dry skin ‘round these parts. $12, beautyboutique.ca.
This is a lifesaver. Coconut oil is an amazingly cost-effective way to help your body soak up all the moisture it needs. Since it can get greasy, slather it on overnight and wake up with supple skin (try your hair, as well). Added bonus: the scent will leave you smelling of the beach. $14, walmart.ca.
Nothing is worse than checking yourself in the mirror and realizing your lipstick is dray and cracked—and your lips are no better. Be preemptive and exfoliate before you leave the house using this E.L.F. stick made with sugar crystals that aren’t overly abrasive. $4, elfcosmetics.com.
"I don’t want velvety soft, moisturized hands for under $7,"—said no one ever! This cult classic is super-concentrated with glycerin, is fragrance-free and has the stamp of approval from the National Eczema Association. $7, well.ca.
Is everyone in the office—or your children’s school—getting sick? Spritz this anti-bacterial spray without fear of catching whatever bug is going around. Bonus: the added lavender oil prevents your hands from drying out. $7.50, drbronner.com.
Coming in an array of shades, this lip balm will give you that just-bitten winter colour we all strive for—while still keeping your pout moisturized and flake-free. $6, walmart.ca.
The sniffles, watery eyes, snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes–all of these contribute to smudged makeup and raccoon eyes. To keep you looking doe-eyed all day long, switch over to one of our favourite waterproof mascaras. $10, well.ca.
Photo courtesy of Paul Bradbury/237/Ocean/Corbis Image by: Photo courtesy of Paul Bradbury/237/Ocean/Corbis
|This story was originally titled "Higher Learning" in the September 2014 issue.|
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Shopping for that special man in your life can be struggle, so let us help. We've got something that will appeal to all sorts of men this Valentine's Day—at every budget.
Whether you’re looking for something for your fling, boyfriend, partner or husband here are the perfect manly, or just plain quirky, gifts of you guy.
For the proud Canadian
Let your man show everyone just how much he loves his home an native land with one of the most Canadian things in existence, a toque covered with mounties.
Arborist mountie toque, $30, drakegeneralstore.ca.
For the baseball buff
If your partner already has a Blue Jays hat and jersey surprise him with this handsome—and darn right cute—blue jay pin. This tiny treasure will allow him to sport some pride on the lapel of his jacket or event suit.
Blue Jay lapel pin, $10, crywolfclothing.com.
For the Clean Freak
If the smell of synthetic pine won’t cut it for your man (you got a keeper) gift him with a car smell that's more refined, and customizable. Infuse his vehicle with his favourite essential oil blend to feel soothed, uplifted and refreshed while you're on the road.
Saje Car Scenter, $17, saje.com.
For the gym rat
Do you lift bro? Well if your man does then headphones, sans strap, will make all the difference while he’s pumping iron. These wireless Jaybird in-ear bluetooth sport headphones are sweatproof, which means no slipping our of your ears, and offer a long battery life, eight hours, before it needs a charge.
Jaybird Freedom Wireless Headphones, $200, indigo.com.
For the coffee addict
Does your main squeeze appreciate a strong cup of coffee every morning? Buy him this french press with a cute little message, he’ll be sure to think of you fondly before he starts his day.
Brewed with love french press, $39.50, indigo.com.
For the fitness fanatic
This stylish little band automatically tracks steps, distance, calories and sleep. If your man is a triathlete this fitness tracker is swim proof and it also uses a replaceable battery (that lasts up to six months), so you'll have no hassle with daily charging after a training session.
Misfit Shine 2 Fitness tracker, $140, misfit.com.
For the fragrance aficionado
If your man has more than five fragrances, that he actually alternates between, that means he’s a fragrance guy. Try gifting him with the newest scent from Clean; Black Leather. The juice is a spicy blend of smoky musk, bergamot and black peppercorn.
Clean Black Leather, $98, sephora.com.
For the homebody
Nothing’s cozier than a plush natural wool lined pair of leather slippers. If he's a slippers guy, he'll love these from Ugg, consider them them the Rolls Royce of the slipper world.
Men’s scuffed Deco Slippers, $135, ugg.com.
For the bearded hipster
A freshly laundered man is something any woman can get behind, so consider this gift a win win. Give him this trio of male grooming essentials: facial cleanser, beard conditioning shave lube and beard oil.
Jack Black Beard Grooming Kit, $43, sephora.com.
For the music man
If your paramour is into his beats and always on the move gift him with this retro looking amp shaped portable speaker, the smallest from the music minded brand. It’s got a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that will allow him to blast his tunes for a solid 25 hours before needing a charge.
Marshall Stockwell speaker, $300, indigo.com.